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  • Kraig Brachman

The Literacy Benefits of Video Games


Kids love them, adults love them, but video games to this day still have a stigma around them. Often viewed as time wasters, or maybe even leading users to become violent, these games have had a stigma attached to them since becoming mainstream in the 1970s with the likes of Pong, Asteroids, and Space Invaders.


As an avid video gamer and a somewhat successful adult, I’m here to set the record straight; video games are a benefit to children in these following areas.

 

Reading

When I was a kid who struggled with reading and writing, my brother came to me with an idea on how I can be more engaged with reading: read out all the words when we play video games. That was about 30 years ago — when the video games were 2D and made of pixels — but, the concepts are still relevant today (even though many games have voice acting in them and don’t require as much reading).


“Video games are a significant cultural and creative force, often involving a number of art forms, including narrative, design and audio composition. The way that technology can be used to support and enrich the literacy lives of children and young people is an integral part of our work. So we have started to explore the impact of video games on children and young people’s literacy attitudes, behaviours and skills.


[Their] independent research has found that video games can:

  • Give young people a route into reading and writing

  • Improve confidence in young people's reading skills

  • Immerse young people in stories

  • Support positive communication with family and friends

  • Increase empathy and support wellbeing

  • Engage boys and reluctant readers with literacy

 

Problem-solving

From the outside in, video games can seem immensely complex, and some of them can be. There can be a myriad of systems stacked on systems that require websites dedicated to breaking them down. However, most games at their core have very simple and intuitive principles as rules.


These rules are how the player interacts with the world, and at its very core, gaming is nothing but using what tools you are provided to solve a puzzle. A perfect example of this at play is the game Baba Is You, where you must “break” the rules of the game to solve a puzzle: https://youtu.be/R_nYAcFElcQ



“While one widely held view maintains playing video games is intellectually lazy, such play actually may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception, according to several studies reviewed in the article.


Playing video games may also help children develop problem-solving skills, the authors said. The more adolescents reported playing strategic video games, such as role-playing games, the more they improved in problem solving and school grades the following year, according to a long-term study published in 2013.”


 

Hand-Eye coordination

Video games are still a relatively young artform; what we think as the first instance of what we would call a video game was made in 1958 and was called Tennis for Two. While video games have been around since then, and slowly got bigger, it wasn’t until the mass adoption of home computers that they reached a major milestone of being in the hands of more people.


After that moment, most people discovered they didn’t have the proper hand-eye coordination required to use the mouse; it’s why Microsoft included Solitaire on their operating system:

  • Microsoft originally put Solitaire into Windows to soothe people intimidated by the operating system, according to Duzan. It gave them something familiar and fun to do with their computer while it also taught them how to use a mouse. Not surprisingly, for years Solitaire was the most-used application for Windows, Microsoft officials say.

While this is only one anecdote, it does provide a good example of how video games can help people with their hand-eye coordination.


According to a study done at the University of Toronto:

… Our findings suggest that video game playing confers no reliable benefit in sensorimotor control, but it does enhance sensorimotor learning, enabling superior performance in tasks with consistent and predictable structure.


Put in simpler terms, from Tech Times: “Sensorimotor skills include tasks like riding a bicycle or typing, which rely on using what you see with your eyes and coordinating your muscles so that they operate accordingly. Although all people start as novices with such skills, with increased practice they become experts. Eventually, the skills involved become second nature and happen almost without thinking about them.


Think of learning how to ride a bike. Once you've learned, you get better, and eventually, you can ride a bike without consciously thinking about it at all. Thanks to this new study, you can probably learn to ride a bike faster if you play video games.”


 

Social Skills

“Video games have become a very social form of entertainment, with teams and players cooperating to reach a common goal. Video games increasingly are played on social network sites such as Facebook promoting online gaming achievements and interactions.


Over 70% of gamers play with a friend, by playing against each other or working cooperatively in a team. Games such as World of Warcraft open up virtual worlds and communities that extend far beyond the computer screen. Playing video games in teams, with other players can benefit your social development if it is done in moderation.”


While video games can help promote social skills, it’s important to not assume every game and every interaction is going to be a positive experience. Video games can be a topic of discussion for your child, can be a reason to meet in person or online and play with a friend, or it can be a common interest.


It’s important for you to be involved in your child’s video game time, especially when using online services. These are not rated by the ESRP even though a game might be, and while the companies that make the games monitor online components for harassment, adult content, and things like loot boxes, and other unsuitable things for kids, a child can still be exposed to these elements. It is best to monitor your child while they play, if they are old enough, discuss staying safe online, and the best way to keep them safe while playing online is to play with them!


 

Imagination

Video games are like no other artistic medium that has come before because it demands input from its audience. While an overarching structure is created for play, no two players will have the exact same experience. Interaction is what makes video games so magical, every time a player puts in an input, they are using their mind to create a scenario, to react to a fictitious event, or placing themselves in an imaginary world. And improving imagination is like any skill, it requires practice, practice that video games can help with


“Results of our research indicate that there is a relationship between videogame playing and creativity in 12-year old children. No other type of information technology, [cell phones, internet, or computers], showed any relationships, regardless of how creativity was measured. There were no gender differences in creativity despite gender differences in videogame playing.”


 

That’s all we will cover for today. Keep an eye out for our upcoming post covering things like genres to explore deeper, platforms, and complexities of free to play and micro transactions. See you next time!

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